For the past year and a half, student employees and volunteers in Special Collections at the University of Maryland’s Hornbake Library have been working to provide researchers with better access to the staggering amount of information contained in the Baltimore News American collection. After the University of Maryland’s Special Collections and University Archives acquired this collection of subject and biographical photographs, newspaper articles, and microfilm approximately 30 years ago, the daunting task of preserving and processing its 1545 linear feet of materials was issued to several decades of graduate assistants and volunteers.
One of the fun things about working at an archive is the great variety of people who send in reference requests. However, often times the reason for their requests remains a mystery. So, when the State of Maryland and Historical Collections Division got a reference request last December for pictures and newspaper articles from the Baltimore News American newspaper about a murdered nun, I didn’t think much of it. Another student worker pulled materials from our photograph collection, and using the dates found on the photos, I went through the microfilm to find related articles. We sent the photos and articles to the patron and I didn’t think much more about the request.
However, a few months later in early May, my supervisor told us that that patron had made a documentary about the murder and the show would be on Netflix! The show is titled “The Keepers” and it investigates the murder of a nun, Sister Catherine Cesnik, in Baltimore in 1969. It is comprised of seven, one-hour long episodes. I was quite excited to hear this news and binged-watched the series as soon as I could. I’ll admit that I kept my eyes glued to screen, trying to spot if any of the articles that I had found would flash across the screen. Also, I watched the credits and paused them to take a photo when the Special Collections, University of Maryland Libraries appeared on the screen. Continue reading
The University of Maryland’s Special Collections & University Archives houses a particularly interesting and highly utilized acquisition in the Baltimore News American collection. Acquired 30 years ago when the News American stopped its presses for the last time, the collection contains subject and biographical photos used in the Baltimore News American family of newspapers from 1904 through 1986. The fully processed section of the collection spans close to 1600 boxes and over 660 linear feet. And that doesn’t even consider the oversize materials and extensive unprocessed boxes which bring the total number of images to possibly over 1.5 million. The numbers are certainly impressive, but you cannot get a scope for how big the collection is until you see entire walls in our archive stacks solely dedicated to the photographs.
Making this collection more accessible is the work of many hands, including volunteers and student employees. The work often begins by pulling a number of photos, organized in folders, from one of our unprocessed boxes. We collect information from both the folders and the images including the subject, first and last name, number of photos, and relevant dates [when the photographs were taken, or when the images were published in the newspaper]. All the while, the photos are moved into better, safer acid-free folders and boxes and entered into a database of processed images. Also, given the number of people who have processed this gargantuan collection, we take the time to proofread each other’s data entry work.